Indigenous Considerations

Developing and delivering training on mental health can be an opportunity to build on existing work at your institution toward Indigenization, decolonization, and reconciliation.

Territory Acknowledgement

Acknowledging the Indigenous Peoples on whose traditional lands you live, work, and study is an important way to begin an event or meeting and can be included as part of classroom activities and taught to students. Meaningful territory acknowledgements allow you to develop a closer and deeper relationship with not only the land but the traditional stewards and peoples whose territory you reside, work, live, and prosper in. For more information on giving a territory acknowledgement, see Opening the Session.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action explicitly state that each of us as members of Canadian society have a direct responsibility to contribute to reconciliation; how we discuss colonization in relation to mental health is a direct response to that responsibility.

The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is an international instrument adopted by the United Nations on September 13, 2007, to enshrine (according to Article 43) the rights that “constitute the minimum standards for the survival, dignity and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world.” UNDRIP was adopted by the government of British Columbia on November 26, 2019. Centring the history of colonization as a background to and framework for mental health is in direct response to our legal and moral obligation as members of Canadian society.

Curriculum Development and Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being

Indigenization is a process of naturalizing and valuing Indigenous knowledge systems.[1] In the context of post-secondary institutions, this involves bringing Indigenous knowledge and approaches together with Western knowledge systems. This benefits not only Indigenous learners but all students, staff, faculty, and campus community members involved in or impacted by Indigenization.

As you adapt this training for your particular context, consider how and in what ways you might interweave Indigenous content and approaches. Here are some examples of how you might include an understanding of Indigenous ways of knowing and being:

  • Incorporate Indigenous pedagogical approaches, such as holistic and relational perspectives, experiential learning, place-based learning, and intergenerational learning.
  • Involve Indigenous students, faculty, and staff in reviewing, adapting, and evaluating resources.
  • Integrate knowledge from Indigenous communities local to your institution.

As you do this work, as an Indigenous or non-Indigenous person, you will want to continue to draw upon and build on existing relationships with Indigenous people, both within and outside of your institution. As a way of continuing to work in intentional and respectful ways, you may want to reflect on questions such as these:

  • How does this work benefit Indigenous communities and help them to meet their goals?
  • Will there be benefits for Indigenous students, faculty, and staff?
  • Have the community or communities identified their own priorities or goals related to this work?
  • How can this work support Indigenous efforts related to healing from past and ongoing colonial violence?

Elders and Knowledge Keepers

Elders have always been the foundation for emotional, social, intellectual, physical, and spiritual guidance for Indigenous communities. As you find ways to naturalize Indigenous context, perspectives, and traditional ways of being in your training, we recommend that you consider inviting an Elder or Knowledge Keeper from your local community to support your sessions. One way of doing this is to speak with Indigenous student services staff at your institution, share with them some of the recommendations in this guide, and see how they might wish to support this work.

Not all institutions will have an Elder in Residence, but each should have ways for you to contract an Elder or Knowledge Keeper to come in and support your work. Elders and Knowledge Keepers often support the whole post-secondary institution community, not just the Indigenous students. Involving Elders and Knowledge Keepers can help support reconciliation by helping to build respectful, reciprocal relationships that are deep and meaningful.

Whenever you plan to bring in a community member, Elder, or Knowledge Keeper, it is important to plan for the honorarium required to remunerate them for their time and for sharing their wisdom and traditional teachings. In many communities, it is seen as most respectful to offer payment on par with what you would pay a Ph.D. holder to do a keynote presentation. However, consulting with the Indigenous services staff at your institution on what is a typical amount for this type of event is also a good practice.

Text Attributions

  1. Antoine, A., Mason, R., Mason, R., Palahicky, S., & Rodriguez, C. (2018). Pulling together: A guide for Indigenization of post-secondary institutions. A professional learning series. ; Little Bear, L. (2009). Naturalizing Indigenous knowledge: Synthesis paper. Canadian Council on Learning.  


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Starting A Conversation About Mental Health: Foundational Training for Students Copyright © 2021 by UBC Student Health and Wellbeing Staff; Jewell Gillies; Barbara Johnston; Liz Warwick; Dagmar Devine; Jenny Guild; Arica Hsu; Hamza Islam; Mehakpreet Kaur; Malena Mokhovikova; Jackson Mackenzie Nicholls; and Calla Smith is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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